A Place for the Offbeat

Review of Jokes Review, Summer 2018 by Kim Jacobs-Beck


Some writers specialize in humor or in the offbeat. Even those who do not sometimes play with the form. Jokes Review wants to see your funny poem or offbeat piece of fiction.

This is a new journal, started in summer 2016, published biannually online and in print. Editors Peter Clarke, Matt Kramer, Mark Dwyer and Erica Stumpe say that their vision is to “promote writers and artists whose work just took a wrong turn and went ever-so-gracefully off the deep end.” They accept all literary genres and visual art, and encourage experimental, hybrid, humorous, and “scraps” of writing, as well as “ironic existential rants” and the occasional “inspired manifesto.” Submissions should be less than 3500 words. Jokes Review is open to pieces that may not fit neatly into the categories of other journals.

Contributors, all of whom can be found at the link at the bottom of the web page, have eclectic backgrounds and professions, perhaps more so than more established literary magazines, ranging from writing students to seasoned writers with distinguished publications listed on their bios. This journal might be an excellent one for those starting out in publication, given its openness to genre and contributor experience.

In Issue Five (Summer 2018), there are eight stories, poems by six poets in groups of at least three each, a humorous photo series by Keir Wilkinson, “One Night Stand Mixer,” and cover art, “Disavowal” by Emilie Karl. This is fairly typical for this literary magazine, though past issues contained more art and some nonfiction. The overall tone of this issue’s contributions is unsurprising given the vision of the review: they are humorous, offbeat, and in several cases, somewhat surreal. Two stories, Mason Binkley’s “A Customs Officer Interviews Christopher Columbus” and Alex Colvin’s “Latheck: The Social Justice Barbarian,” with illustrations by Jack Eddy, are political satires with liberal and conservative political positions. Robert Perchan’s “Merkin Shopping In NYC” was also satiric. All three of these pieces push against convention. I was turned off by these stories; the political ones seemed simplistic, even trite. Perchan’s story struck me as crass and verged on being sexist. Of course, other readers may enjoy the humor in any or all these stories.

Of particular note is Kathy Lanzarotti’s “50 Minutes for the Rakshasa,” about a demon who is in therapy. This story is full of clever details:

In the waiting room Rahm takes the form of what he refers to as “an unfortunate soul.” Too short pants, a white t-shirt under an open collared button down, short sleeved, no less. His dirty hair is matted away from his face. A greasy mustache dribbles over his top lip.

In my office, though, Rahm is his real self. Cloaked in an enormous robe that appears to be made of spun gold. Two curved fangs peak out from the corners of his fleshy red lips and two ram’s horns spiral over his round ears. The thick knot of glossy black hair on top of his head starkly offsets his chalky skin and jet black eyes.

Lanzarotti weaves humor and menace through dialogue and a wry twist on the mental health and addiction-cure industry.

Kevin Sterne’s two stories, “Thomas Burned Down the Applebee’s” and “Jerry Used to Get Drunk Off His Sister’s Hairspray” are strange and haunting. Jerry, protagonist of the second story, is also an important character in the first one, about three guys in a band, all of whom are also on the societal margins. Thomas finds musical inspiration in the disorder and chaos caused by burning down Applebee’s restaurants across the suburbs, while Kurt tags along, and Jerry drifts in and out as a kind of addled savant. In the second story, Jerry breaks into his own sister’s house to steal her hairspray because he is too poor to buy alcohol. Together, these stories show us young, lost white guys struggling with addiction, low-wage jobs, and dreams of hitting the big time with their music that are unlikely to come true.

The poems in Issue 5 are eclectic in style and topic, without any clear pattern or preference that was obvious to me, other than a few titles with reptiles and amphibians. Cal LaFountain’s “Chums with Times You Tingle,” is a long prose poem with disrupted syntax, while Ricky Garni’s “Poem by Amazon Tracking Service” is just two lines: “Your bicycle chain/is in Urbancrest.” Several poems reference pop culture or tech culture, such as Amanda Tummarino’s “Elaine Benes” and Audra Pulchalski’s “AOL Instant Messenger.”

Overall, the quality of the work was somewhat uneven, as is perhaps to be expected from a journal focused on inventive and even fragmentary work. Still, Jokes Review is offering a space for unconventional work, some of which I found quite entertaining and memorable.